It is impossible to escape politics and bureaucracy when you work for a client. In this fourth part of our series on best modelling practices, we look at the issue of management support. As usual, lets start with the definition given by Dave Sturrock on the Simio blog as a starting point:

The simulationist’s manager should support the project as needed not only in issues like tools and training, but also in shielding the simulationist from energy sapping politics and bureaucracy.
— Dave Sturrock, Simio Blog
Try to remain a "trusted adviser" with a fresh outside view (yes, that's me).

Try to remain a "trusted adviser" with a fresh outside view (yes, that's me).

Wouldn’t it be nice to be clear with your client that your simulation model is a purely objective tool for decision making, to be used by rational people for sound judgements? However, reality requires you, the simulation consultant, to do much more than a delivering models. Still, it is advisable to establish an aura of objectivity and safety around your project to be truly effective. Let’s explore how…

At the start

Usually, you face 2-3 layers of seniority when dealing with your client. There is your direct contact who answers technical questions and provides insight into the problem. Then, there is his senior, usually responsible for overall project management. And sometimes, one level above him waits a CEO to get project results. In order to get shielded from politics effectively, it’s best to aim for the middle or top level of seniority.

During initial project scoping, get a feel for how your model will be used in the company. Are there rivaling schools of thought? Do you need to disprove people or another part of the company? Will you be drawn into politics? I think it is good practice to clarify how you see your role. Establish that you want to be the “trusted adviser” to the team, delivering useful insight and striving for objective support. This way, you can establish a first level of shielding from policy.

Shielding yourself from bureaucracy is more difficult, in my experience. If a client needs you to fill out long weekly reports to comply with whatever, there is little you can do. However, you might reduce your workload if you negotiate with a senior at the start.

During the project

Avoid getting buried with bureaucracy (unlike my wife).

Avoid getting buried with bureaucracy (unlike my wife).

After having formed the first level of shielding, you will normally need additional protection during the project. There are a number of red flags indicating you might be drawn into politics again:

  • Interim results not acceptable, request to change model to fit expectation
  • Alternative inputs to fit expectations
  • Request to leave out model parts or add new “hot fixes”

You will need to be quite careful in your communication here. I would try to establish why the client wants these specific changes, drilling down to the real reasons behind it. If it is not obvious that you are being drawn into politics, state how you feel and that you are challenged to maintain the “trusted adviser” status currently.

Shielding yourself from bureaucracy during a project is less problematic. Usually, a friendly reminder suffices that you agreed to be spared from certain tasks. However, sometimes, new bureaucracy creeps in. As above, there is usually no point in fighting it. Either you can get around it through a simple request or you will have to live with it. However, in excessive cases, do clarify how this impacts on your modelling task.

Establish to be the “trusted adviser”. Keep focus on the role of your project. Avoid being used to make politics. Try to manage bureaucracy as far as possible.

What are your experiences in managing politics and bureaucracy when delivering projects? How do you best shield yourself from wrong motives? Let’s make this a best practices list…